Are you constantly saying “Yes” or volunteering to help out anyone who asks?
Are you the “go-to” person that people call when they need a last minute, emergency favor? Does your boss give you that extra assignment because he knows you won’t complain and you’ll get the job done?
Many of us find ourselves in a mode of constantly giving our time, energy and maybe even our money to help other people out. We end up feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by everything on our plate and as if we’re not being appreciated for all that we do. If you can relate, these are telltale signs that you need to work on setting stronger personal boundaries.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being generous and charitable, but a great way to determine whether or not it’s a problem is to take a good look at the level of resentment you feel towards the people and the related activities you’re signing up for.
If you’re constantly over-giving, “Takers” will eventually be able to spot you a mile away. Regardless of how good or bad of a person they are, many will ultimately end up taking advantage of your giving nature. Some will be pure takers; they will suck you dry for their own benefit with no regard for how it affects you. Others may or may not have bad intentions, but they will never know that they’re stomping all over you, and they’ll likely never stop, unless you speak up. They’ll assume you’re happily willing to continue giving, simply because you’ve never indicated otherwise. And, to be fair, why should they?
While many loving and considerate people exist in this world, there are also many who simply don’t get it. I firmly believe that we teach people how to treat us and if we don’t require respect and consideration, then more often than not, we won’t get it.
So how can you begin to start implementing these boundaries when you’re so used to (and expected to) always be agreeable and giving?
It starts with self-compassion and honoring your own needs first. Here are some simple steps to take when asked to help out or when you find yourself considering agreeing to take on a favor or task:
1) Take a deep breath, close your eyes and imagine yourself actually completing or participating in the activity.
2) Notice how your body responds. Do you feel free and light about it? If so, great! If your schedule permits, and you want to do it, go for it! However, if you notice any tightness or restriction anywhere in your body, take this as a sign that it may not be something you really want to do. If you start feeling resentment or your mind steps in and you start having thoughts of not being appreciated, these are great indicators that you may be better off declining.
3) When the self-criticism or panic starts (and it will) and you begin to worry about what everyone will think if you say no, or that you’re a bad or selfish person, question those thoughts. Consider the idea of a great friend or loved one telling you that they can’t help out because they’re too busy or tired. Would you think they’re selfish or a bad person? If your answer is still yes, then take it one step further: consider self-care as a requirement instead of an option. If you don’t take care and honor yourself, you’ll end up having nothing to offer to anyone else. Would you want your daughter or sister to ignore her own needs and feel depleted and resentful in order to do you a favor? My guess is no.
4) Create a list of terms and conditions for who, what and when you’ll say yes. This may sound silly, but writing it out will make it feel more solidified. Maybe you only volunteer to help once a week or only on the weekends? Maybe you stick to activities that feel more light and fun and stop volunteering in areas that you resent or that are hard to get to after work? Whatever it is for you, defining them can be a great personal awareness exercise. Remember, this list isn’t something you have to share with anyone and it can be changed or tweaked whenever and however you see fit.
If you’re a chronic giver and have one or more takers in your life, you’re likely going to face some retaliation when you start giving yourself permission to say “No.” Understanding and expecting this can help you be prepared for the backlash. If confronted and you feel the need to give a reason, tell them you need some down-time or that your schedule is simply too busy. Stand your ground and don’t let the taker convince you otherwise. Implementing self-care and listening to your own needs creates higher energy levels, better mental and physical health and a true sense of empowerment. How can this be a bad choice?